Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Atmosphere Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

Merchant Blues

The big group walked down the short remaining distance to The Marketplace, the untamed wilderness had been cut away in this area and tall metal sensor beacons stood out of the ground every hundred yards or so. The big soldiers marched alongside of them, their leader at the front questioning Grant.

“How many were there?”

“Hard to say, at least six.. or seven”

“And they had explosives? It's unheard of for bandits round here to have access to such things.”

“Not just any old explosives, An AT-6 RPG launcher. I didn’t even know any of those could be found on the island, never mind in the hands of vermin like that.”

“We will have to increase the number of patrols to the south and find any weapon caches they might have. You will also have to give us a full report of what happened.”

“Do I have to Major?”

“Standard procedure. You know how it is”

Grant let out an audible groan and rolled his eyes, the 'Major' turning round for a second and looking back at the group.

“Were there any other incidents on the journey?” His voice was altered through his helmet

Daniel glanced to the brown-coat that had confronted him who was staring down to the ground sheepishly, before looking back to the soldier and shaking his head. They came to tall metal barricade with concrete piled up against it, it reached up to the top of the surrounding apartment, four or five storeys up with searchlights and machine-gun posts lining the top and an old armoured personnel carrier with no wheels sat before it, the turret still operational though and slowly tracked the new group as they approached. The Major held up a hand and a gate that Daniel hadn't seen amongst the debris walls loudly opened up. They passed though single file, a scanner on the other side flashing at them with in a blinding red light.

The Marketplace stood before them, a row of massive huge warehouses to the right, tall piles of crates and containers piled up beside them, beyond that the ancient West Side train yard -now filled to the top with water, all the train carriages dragged out and used in the Militari's barricades. And to the left the Hudson river, numerous docks and jetties jutting out from the shore and maybe a hundred boats moored up to them. Some as small as a canoe or row-boat right up to a gargantuan metal cargo ship with tall sails atop it and 'Pride of Cordonia' painted down the side in white paint. The caravan came to a stop once more, one of the brown-coats and Grant going to one side and talking, the others beginning to unpack their cargo already while Daniel still looked around at his new surroundings.

“Alright then” Grant announced, motioning his team mates and Daniel to come nearer, chucking a pile of change up and down in his hand.

“What's our pay Comrade Commissar?” Harper said excitedly and rubbed his hands together before Powell slapped his hand, shaking his head.

“Well, the caravan leader said due to our quick action in that attack they lost none of their goods, so offered more and due to some incident they said increased it a little more. Said Daniel would know. SO.. it's two hundred fifty each”

“How can they afford to give us all a thousand cents?” Daniel asked, looking down at the ten quarters in his hand

“Barely a fraction of what they make here Powell interjected, pocketing his pay.

“Well. I gotta go spend the evening with the Major explaining everything that happened. I'll meet you two here in the morning. And Comrade Daniel, until next time” He put his hand out to shake. Daniel pocketed his money and grasped Grant's hand and smiled.

Viva la revolution comrade commissar

Daniel walked along slowly along the shore front -pulling up the hood of his coat as the sun slowly crept down behind the scarred skyline of Jersey- and looked into each boat as he passed, workers in florescent jackets and gas masks hauling crates out to large carts to be taken inside The Marketplace. He stopped at the Pride of Cordonia, one of the crew members standing the back and looking down to him, smoking an electric cigarette through a small hole in his gas mask.

“...Evening” He said with a nod, remaining weary of this islander.

“Can you tell me where exactly 'Cordonia' is?”

“Western shore of the Ohio Sea. Takes a week of sailing below the Motown Bay and through the rivers of the Scorching Shore, or a fortnight all the way around The Eastern Division. Now uh, if you don't mind I was trying to enjoy my break” He shooed Daniel away with a wave of his hand and took another puff of his cigarette.

He strolled over to one of the warehouses, all the windows covered in metal sheets wielded to the surrounding walls. The entrances had a similar airlock to The Kingdom's towers, a Militari soldier stood motionless outside, workers with carts moving past him through the iron gate. Daniel went to follow them when the soldier's arm shot out in front of him.

“Am I.. not allowed in?”

The soldier continued staring forward, his arm still held out.

“Where can I go until morning then?”

He put his hand back on his weapon and held out his other arm, pointing to a two-storey building that looked like it had only been erected in the past few decades. Daniel went to ask the soldier just what the building was but figured he'd get no answer, making his way around a passing dock worker and over to the building. It was made of plaster and wood and had windows along it strangely -though they weren't made of glass, such a fragile material being a huge risk- with orange light spilling out and as he got closer music as well. He entered through the first door and knocked on the second, nothing happening after half a minute and realising he had to open it himself, the airlock seemingly automatic.

He was taken back as he stepped through the second door and emerged in an Irish styled pub

filled with dock and ship workers who had finished moving their load. Taking his gas mask off and shoving it in his satchel, putting the Bulldog SMG in after, the end poking out which he had to ignore. The rotund bartender looked up to Daniel as he approached and leant on the bar, grabbing an empty glass and preparing to fill it.

“What can I get ya laddie?” He said cheerfully in a terrible O'Irish accent.

“A room for the night. I can get one here apparently?”

“Ah, sorry lad. Last one jus' got rented out. But don't be down how 'bout a drink eh?”

“No, that's fine..” Daniel said begrudgingly, not wanting to part way with any of his new money unless necessary. He looked round for an empty seat and found one in the corner beside the jukebox -held together with a ton of industrial-grade tape- as some old windpipe music played from it.

“What news from the manland?”

Daniel looked to the side, a black guy in an grey overall and a big moustache and a brown-coat with a fedora on sitting further down the bench.

“They all talk of New York” The moustachio started “Many believe the city is doing much better than it is -well, compared to the them it is. But not like this sensationalism sweeping the mainland makes out. They talk of emigrating here. And you and I both know how bad that would be. Termini have no room, Kingdom have the room but not barely enough soldiers to guard their towers what with having to defend Brooklyn Bridge now. And what with this Empire State business going on the whole isle could be plunged back into a war the likes of which we haven't seen since the first Kingdom – Termini war. Personally I'd be trying to get off the island, just for now at least.

Anyway, I heard from some mercenaries from Philly that The Crystagon City has finally opened to trade after all these years, The council is putting together a large caravan full of gifts to send there and are in discussion with the Crystagon ambassador about the best route for trade.”

“Crystagon City? Never heard of it... It's on The Eastern Division I take it?”

“Yes, further south along the coast from Atlanticopolis. In the southern area of one of the Ancient One's cities, bordered by a river one side and a collapsed bridge-way the other-side. Originally divided into two, Crystal City and Pentagon City, they chose to merge a little while ago. There is some very smart people there and they are working on great things I hear. That's why they were so secretive.”

“Hmm... already don't like the sound of them” The brown-coat said before taking a big gulp from his glass. “They got something they don’t want the rest of us to find out about. We'll probably send a couple of people over there to see how good or bad the possibility of trading with them would be”

“How is the Merchant Confederation doing these days?”

“Better than ever. Inside New York and out. We've finally managed to gain a foothold in the market in the Chicago Islands and we're probably going to look into getting a ship like the Pride of Cordonia out there for ourselves.”

“You'll have Detroitian pirates to contend with then..”

“A couple of big guns will keep them away”

Daniel had to drag himself away as a new person sat down beside him, in a thick beige coat with it's hood pulling up and covering his face and black pants and an empty holster strapped around a leg. He took the large backpack off, Daniel getting a glimpse of a white spherical helmet beneath the hood that covered the person's entire face and showed no showed no sign of any opening or visor. The person pushed his backpack beneath the table before turning to Daniel after noticing he was staring

“What?” He demanded in a tinny voice with a slight buzz.

“That's a strange helmet y-”

“It's my head” He said quickly, pulling the cords on his hood tighter.

“You're a.. robot?”

“What is it with you people..” He muttered to himself “Every time I come to this island. Never seen a fucking android before.” He pulled a scratched PDA out of his pocket and switched it on, deciding to ignore the man beside him and taping away at it.

“Where did you come from?”

“Termini.” The robot obviously annoyed by now “Maybe you should try going there some time. You'd be astounded at what they have. Let me guess you're from The Kingdom? Most you've seen is one of those Boston Dynamics Big-Dogs?”

“No, actually. I'm an United Arms employee from the mid 21st century whose spend the last couple of thousand years in a cryogenics chamber until three days ago where I found myself running from invisible monsters, getting almost killed by an underground tidal wave, chased down by a Spaniard on a robotic horse, getting drunk and waking up in an Italian city built into the inside of a skyscraper and fought alongside communist cowboy vigilantes. So quite frankly a robot with a bit of an attitude doesn't really faze me.”

The robot turned again and looked to Daniel, tilting its head slightly and a little unsure if what he just said was true.

“Frozen? So you are from..before Protocol-U5?”

“What WAS Protocol-U5?”

“Lose your memory or something?”

“Yes. I'm only just now putting the pieces together”

“It was one of five final solutions to the Shanghai Virus. The most drastic. Put everybody who reached Manhattan into cryo and launch four hundred nuclear missiles exactly in the right places to blanket the earth in fallout – and kill everyone on the surface – and the disease”

“What was the Shanghai Virus?”

“As the name implies it was a virus that originated in Shanghai. Quickly took hold of the Chinese coastline and the whole world went into lock-down. Still spread to Russia and Middle East despite best attempts to stop it. Then Europe and Africa. We here though had completely stopped everything crossing the border. Any plane shot out of the sky, any boat – torpedoed. Still somehow got in though. The government with United Arms help set up a massive cordon, splitting the country right down the middle. It was meant to be for screening people evacuating from the west coast, but eventually it just became a thousand mile long artillery battery. It was so fortified and well built it still stands today – Cordonia

“But.. it didn't work though. I know the virus reached New Jersey”

“Well, people still found a few way through, down in Texas parts of the wall managed to be destroyed and the infected just piled through – just wanting aid, only finding death. Then the fire-bombing of every major city began. United Arms were relentless in trying to stop it's spread. Another cordon was set up around Manhattan which was far easier to defend and then Protocol-U5 happened.”

“Just who were United Arms?”

“You tell me. You said you worked for them. They were the largest, most powerful corporation in the world, a conglomerate of all the countries defence contractors into one, that eventually just became another arm of the government and according to some – the people really in charge of America.”

“There nothing else you know about them? And does the name Daniel Blackwell mean anything to you?”

“Nope. And no one knew much about them.”

“How come you're suddenly so open? And what are you doing in this place anyway?”

“Cause it's good to finally speak again to someone from the old world. It was almost a thousand years ago the last person I found that had awoken from one of those cryo-chambers. They are all over the place, deep under the ground in tunnels UA dug, and their opening sequence messed up it seems. And why am I here? I'm not too sure. ...I just lost my ship, crew n all.”

“You owned a ship? Are you a merchant?”

“Yes. I operated the same ship for four hundred and seventy eight years two months and twenty nine days.... three hours and sixteen minutes. And then one week ago I lost it all in a Detroitian attack. I just walked here from Pittsburgh. This is the first time I've stopped walking.”

“And what are you going to do now?”

He turned to look to Daniel again, twirling the PDA in his hand

“I don't know. What would you do if you get stuck in a routine for almost five hundred years just to have it abruptly end, to lose your home and job and your colleagues and friends in one go?”

“Were they robots too?”

“No. They were people.” He said, sounding offended “All that remained from my ship that washed up on the shore is now in this bag. I managed to get some of the cargo, good quality electronics for the Termini. So they could repair a few more robots.”

“Come with me. I'm heading towards the Termini. And you're still going to sell those parts!”


“Because... to repair those robots. And for your crew?”

“No, I mean why would you want me to travel with you?”

“Why not? Safety in numbers. Might be interesting.. Aaand I also need to explore a United Arms building on 55th Street and having help wouldn't hurt”

“A UA building? There's bound to be some amazing things in there...And never mind going all the way to Chicago to buy computer chips -the things that could be down there could repair all the Termini's-”

He trailed off and his head looked up as through the door barged a large man in a black overall, his sleeves rolled up showing numerous tattoos and a flat cap sat atop his round bald head, his gas mask hanging from a strap round his wide neck.

“Isaac!” He shouted, making more of a grunt than any actual noticeable speech. and slamming his hands against the table. “I thought I saw you sulkin' your way in here”

“Good evening Jack.. what seems to be-”

“My men say they didn't get any toll money from you. Again.”

“Well, you see. It'd be quite hard to pay your toll for entering the gates, as I swam across the Hudson here”

“I didn't pay your toll either” Daniel said loudly, broadening his shoulders and sitting up straight but still paling in comparison to the man.

“You just shut up. You were surrounded by a squad of Militari so you is let off. But YOU, you is comin' with me” He grabbed the sleeve of the robot's arm and yanked him out from behind the table and dragged him out through the door again. Everyone in the pub was motionless, looking over to Daniel. He slowly shuffled out of the bench and quickly began walking to the door before stopping and looking back at the robot's backpack, going back for it and throwing it over his back -almost falling flat on his back from the weight.

Daniel closed the door behind him and quickly opened the outer door, running out into the now dark dockyards and immediately stopping in his tracks and choking – forgetting to have put on his mask. He clawed at his satchel and yanked the cover open, reaching in and pulling out his gas mask and pulling it over his face and gasping, taking in a big lung full of oxygen. He looked around for the big man dragging the robot but no sign of them ahead, and there was no way they moved that quickly. He turned to his left and quickly ran around the tavern, knocking over full dustbins and stopping just at the corner to the back, seeing numerous figures around the back.

“Fellas.. fellas. Come on, I lost my ship last week.” The robot pleaded, a group of men in black overalls now stood around him.

“I know.” the big man grumbled and pushed the robot down onto it's knees. “I know cause I paid those Detroitians to sink ya stinkin' vessel”

“Y-you what?” The robot turned it's head -looking- at the thugs surrounding him in disbelief.

“And the fact you is here in front of me is deeply disappointin'. You see we is tired of you one-upping us every month. Always gettin' the best goods and always drawin' the customers away. And despite our warnin's in the past you persisted. Bad move.” He reached into his overall and pulled out a piece of steel piping. “You! Walkin'! Scrap! 'eap!” Each word bringing a crushing blow with the pipe against the robot's head, the fourth one denting it severely and sending him falling to the floor as he let out an electronic high-pitch whine, the other black-clad men laughing. The big man put the pipe away again and stepped over the robot and put his hand on one of the men's shoulder.

“Finish 'im off. And make sure he dies this time”

The big man walked off and disappeared around the corner, the other thugs getting out an assortment of improvised melee weapons and walking towards the robot. Daniel quickly took the Bulldog SMG out of his satchel and stepped round the corner, the heavy backpack almost making him tip over, quickly realising he should have put it down again. The thugs who were hovering above the robot and about to begin smashing it stopped and glanced upto the armed man, standing back upright and looking to him.

“Who the fuck is this guy?” One of them exclaimed, throwing his arms out and trying to look as big as possible.

“Drop them. Walk away.” Daniel ordered, trying to keep as calm but assertive as possible.

“How many bullets you got in that gun smart guy? Think ya can fire them all before we jump ya?” The same one continued, all of them slowly creeping closer.

“Forty-eight. Forty-eight searing hot 4.6mm hollow-point rounds flying at you at over 1,065 miles per hour, over a distance of only ten yards, with twelve bullets leaving the barrel every second. I'll put you all ground in four seconds flat.”

The thugs stopped and looked at each other.

“You'll hear the sound of your bone's shattering and your flesh being torn before the sonic-crack of even the first shot.”

“Alright, hero. Come on boys” The man turned round and motioned for them all to follow, walking off quickly and putting their weapons back in their overalls as a pair of Militari soldiers marched past. Daniel quickly ran over to the robot, helping him back up.

“Are you alright?”

“Just.. fine. Why did you do that?” Isaac asked, adjusting the white plastic cover that was his head.

“A thank you would be nice”

“Now Jack Valechi is going to be coming for YOU. He owns these docks”

“Hah, Valechi? What is he, fucking Mafia?”

“Yes! Or as close as they seem to think the costra nostra really was”

“I thought the Militari owned the docks”

“Well, they do. I mean.. ah, never mind. Look you can't stay here any longer. You or me, we gotta leave. Now! Before his men tell him what happened”

“But its the middle of the night”

“Too bad, come on” the robot said anxiously and pulled Daniel by his sleeve until he kept pace after the running robot. They reached the eastern gate out of the compound a minute later. The Militari soldiers on watch -these without the fancy helmets of the ones that saved them and only with red berets atop shaved heads- turned their flash lights on looked them up and down

“Little late to be going out isn't it? You wouldn't be doing anything illegal now would you?” The gate commander asked, walking closer and shining his light in Daniel's face

“No sir. Just delivering much needed things to The Termini before their market opens in the morning” Isaac said quickly.

“And those would be?” The commander asked, looking to the robot and turning his flash light.

“Just electronic and robotic parts!” Daniel announced, sliding the big backpack from his back and unzipping the top, showing it to the commander who jumped back and yelped and quickly brought his rifle up to his shoulder.

“DOWN ON THE GROUND. NOW!” He barked, the other soldiers all turning round and bringing their weapons to bear as well. Daniel looked down at the bag and immediately dropped it and jumped back upon seeing the cut up burnt body inside, looking to Isaac with his mouth open wide. The robot looked back and then to the commander before lunging forward at an impossibly fast speed and grabbed the end of his rifle, thrusting it out of his hands and smashing the stock against his face. The commander stumbled back before the robot grabbed him round the neck and turned him round, putting him between himself and the soldiers atop the gate's barricade. He edged closer to the gate controls before chucking the huge commander at them with ease, the gate beginning to slide open.

“RUN!” He cried out as he disappeared through it into the darkness on the other-side as the Militari soldiers fired off a few unsuccessful rounds before realising the other one was still behind and turning round. Daniel quickly sprinted forward just making it through the gate as hyper-sonic rounds began landing around him. He was greeted immediately with the thick jungle wilderness again, tripping over and landing face first in the tall grass. Searchlights flickered on behind him and an alarm began blaring out into the night air as he could hear the soldiers just a few metres behind him calling for 'the night vision goggles'. Crawling forward as fast as he could through the grass, catching himself on rocks and spiky plants he cursed quietly to himself and wondered just how he managed to get himself into this situation. He paused as the beam of a searchlights swung in front of him and arced to his side, desperately looking from side to side for the robot but seeing no sign of him. He heard a resounding “There!” behind him and quickly sprang to his feet, running for the nearest tree and diving behind it as a hail of gunfire started, tearing all the plants near by to pieces, the centuries old tree thankfully thick enough to stop them though. With his back up against the tree he spotted Isaac up ahead, light reflecting off his dome head for a split second as he peered out the window of a building up ahead as another searchlight swung past not noticing him. Daniel waited for a pause in the gunfire before sprinting forward to another tree a few yards ahead and diving behind it as the fire started up again. The robot obviously knew where Daniel was now and continued to just sit and watch, Daniel pointing to him and mouthing silent obscenities at him.

With one last sprint Daniel dived through the door way of the same building the robot was in, breathing heavily and glaring at him from on the floor.

“What?” Isaac asked nonchalantly as the gunfire paused for a second.

“Why were you carrying a fucking body in your backpack?!” Daniel exclaimed loudly as the fire started again and he shuffled up against the wall quickly.

“Well I wasn't expecting you to go and show it to the fucking commander of the guard now was I?

“That's beside the point! Did you murder him?”

“What? No! That was all that remained of my ship's first-mate -and my best friend after my ship sunk. I was going to bury his body where we first met!”

“Oh!” Daniel shouted, looking down and suddenly feeling terrible “..Sorry”

The gunfire stopped again and Isaac leant his head out of the window again

“They're coming”

It took a moment for Daniel to register just what he said as he tried to re-catch his breath.


“The Militari soldiers. They're coming out and looking for us”

“You're joking..” Daniel poked his head out of the window slightly and quickly pulling back again as he spotted the Militari soldiers walking out of the gate with NVGs on their heads and rifles and shotguns in their hands.

“Shit! Shit! What are we going to do?!”

“Don't worry. I'll get us out of this” Isaac said unworried and grabbed Daniel's arm, pulling him along as they went deeper into the dark building.

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